Understanding Disaster Terminology

Will you be able to heed a warning in an emergency? Maybe not - if you don't understand the terminology. From acronyms to warning terminology, here are some commonly used terms related to disasters.


  • CDC - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promotes good health through disease prevention and control. The CDC provides advice for emergency response teams and others who face injuries from the hazards involved in disaster response.
  • CERT - Community Emergency Response Team trains volunteers to respond to a disaster, providing assistance until professional response teams are available.
  • Emergency Alert System - A system established to warn the public about emergency situations.
  • EMS - Emergency Medical Services provides acute medical care and timely transportation to a hospital for the ill or injured.
  • EMT - Emergency Medical Technician
  • FEMA - Federal Emergency Management Agency provides citizens support to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.
  • HAZMAT - Hazardous materials
  • NOAA - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a federal agency focused on climate, weather and oceans. They provide scientific information to help government officials and citizens make decisions during a disaster.
  • SAR - Search and Rescue

Disaster Terms

You may be familiar with terms used to report a pending disaster, but understanding the exact meaning of such terms can help determine what actions to take. Here are some common terms and their meanings:

  • Advisory - Alerts the public that weather conditions exist that require their attention. An advisory may lead to a threatening weather situation.
  • Watch - A watch is issued when weather conditions are right for a potential disaster to occur, but it may not actually occur. The watch should persuade people to be aware of the changing weather conditions through media updates.
  • Warning - A notification message announcing a hazard is imminent and precautions should be taken. A warning is more serious than a watch since the weather condition already exists.
  • Evacuation - An organized departure from dangerous or potentially dangerous areas to safer areas.
  • Shelter in Place - To remain in place inside a building during an emergency, with preparations made to protect yourself and the structure.
  • National Terrorism Advisory System - NTAS Alerts will only be issued when credible threat information is available. These alerts will include a clear statement indicating the degree of the threat:
    • Imminent Threat Alert - Warns of a credible, specific and impending terrorist threat against the United States.
    • Elevated Threat Alert - Warns of a credible terrorist threat against the United States.



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